Famous Person: Yushiko Uchida
Related Topics: Japanese Culture
Japanese Folktale
Diversity (common humanity)
Grade Level: 3rd/4th/5th
Author: Linda Shaffer

Yushiko Uchida

Time Allotment
Resources needed

Yushiko Uchida (oo-chee-da) was born into a family of two girls November 24, 1921 in Alameda, California. Yushiko and Keiko, her older sister, had a great childhood. Yushiko's parents grew up in Japan and moved to Alameda, California before their children were born. When Yushiko was at a young age the family moved to Berkeley, California where she grew up. Yushiko's father was a businessman, and Yushiko's mother loved reading books and poetry. They both were very patient and caring people. Their small family lived in a 3 bedroom house which was rare for a Japanese family living in California.

When Yushiko was 10 years old she begged her mom for a puppy. Five months later Brownie came into their home. Yushiko loved Brownie and recorded everything he did in a journal. Brownie was only ten months old when he got struck by a moving vehicle. They rushed him to the vet, but they couldn't save him. This devastated Yushiko. She realized that in her journal she had recorded all about Brownie's short life, and this made her feel more calm. At this time Yushiko found out what writing was all about, and from this time on having a journal and writing down experiences would be a constant part of Yushiko's life.

When Yushiko was younger and playing with her friends she didn't realize she looked different. Yushiko was born in America, said the Pledge of Allegiance, and loved her country as much as anyone, but soon found out there was a difference between herself and others. She found out her name sounded different and was hard for people, particularly teachers, to pronounce. As she grew up she saw fewer and fewer doors opening because of her Japanese appearance. Her parents had taught Yushiko loyalty, self-discipline, love, and respect for others, and Yushiko honored these Japanese values.

When Yushiko began the 7th grade she attended a white dominated school. Yushiko was exceptionally nervous about going to a school where she would be looked at and possibly treated as someone who didn't belong with the other students. Day after day she would go to school and act unnoticed until one day Yushiko quietly sat down next to an American classmate who turned and asked her why she never talked to anyone. Yushiko was surprised and soon made all sorts of close friends that she kept for many years. At the end of high school Yushiko saw her friends moving in different directions that didn't involve Yushiko. This made Yushiko more intent about moving on from high school, so she worked extra hard to graduate in two and one-half years. She became a 16 year old freshman at the University of California. Yushiko found her place and finally felt included. Her journal was full of many great experiences with her new friends and studying at the university. Finally, Yushiko was a senior and ready to graduate. She was happier than she had ever been, but her happiness came to a sudden halt. On Sunday December 7, 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Soon after this tragic bombing occurred the U.S. found every Japanese man who held leadership in the community and arrested them. They took Yushiko's father with the misconception that he was involved with the bombing. They were holding him in an Immigration Detention Quarters located in San Francisco. Yushiko, Keiko, and their mother were alone. The U.S. government only allowed them $100.00 a month to live on, they confiscated all their keys, and they had to observe an 8:00 PM curfew. All radios, cameras, binoculars, and firearms were taken, and Yushiko's family was given the number 13453 by which they would be known. Yushiko, an American citizen, never quite understood how their own country could turn against them so quickly. It seemed, because of their background, they were no longer American citizens, but still Yushiko took her final tests and graduated from the university.

It wasn't too long until all Japanese were given evacuation orders. Yushiko and her family had to leave many things behind not knowing if they would ever come back. Their move was to a local racetrack where the stalls were made into living quarters. The stalls had hay everywhere, there were only three cots to sleep on, no privacy from their neighbors, public restrooms, and the dinner line was miles long only to get barely anything. Life had suddenly changed for Yushiko. After a few weeks of living in a stall things started to look up. One day she got word that her father would be rejoining them shortly, and a few days later he was reunited with them. There were also many professionals who were stationed in the camp and soon a school was formed. Yushiko became an elementary school teacher to the young children in the camp. There was not much in supplies, but school gave the children and Yushiko security. A short time after, her family was relocated to another concentration camp in Topaz located in Central Utah.

This camp was different than the stalls Yushiko was used to. It was a one-mile square area surrounded by a barbed wire fence and had a guard tower at every corner. In the center was a mess hall, a latrine-washroom with no seats, and a laundry barrack with no water. In Topaz the temperature would get to freezing or below at night, and during the day hit record highs. Often during the day dust storms would arise.

It was fortunate that schools were also formed in Topaz and Yushiko again had the opportunity to teach second grade in the elementary school. However, the school had no tables or chairs, no insulation, there was a hole in the roof, and no source of heat. Sometimes the classrooms got so cold they had to send the students home until the heat was fixed. At this time Yushiko learned important skills and much of her time was spent writing in her journal.

After a year Yushiko was given the opportunity to become free. Both Yushiko and Keiko were encouraged by their parents to get on with their lives. Many papers had to be filled out and they had to get clearance from the U.S. Government.

Finally, in the spring Yushiko and Keiko received the notice they were free. Yushiko had been accepted to the graduate courses in the Education Department at Smith's College in Brooklyn, New York, and plans were made to stay with an old friend. Keiko also would be going to school in the same area so Yushiko's life long friend and sister would not be separated.

As they drove off Yushiko remembered watching her parents become little specks until they weren't seen. This was hard for Yushiko because they had been so much apart of her life, but she was excited about what the new future would bring.

Yushiko graduated from Smith's College and became a teacher for a few years. She started her life as an author and focused her work toward the younger generation. Yushiko realized that more Japanese was planted in her than she thought. She wrote many Japanese folktale and other stories to help Americans understand more about Japanese culture and to give the Japanese a sense of continuity and knowledge of their own remarkable history. In her own words this is what Yushiko wanted,

"I hope the young people who read these books will dare to have big dreams. I also hope they will learn to see Japanese Americans not in the usual stereotypic way, but as fellow human beings. For although it is important for each of us to cherish our own special heritage, I believe, above everything else, we must all celebrate our common humanity." (Uchida, p.132,1991)

Uchida, Yushiko. (1991). The Invisible Thread : An Autobiography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Collier, Laurie and Nakamura, Joyce. (1993). Major Authors and illustrators For Children and Young Adults. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

Uchida, Yushiko. (1954). The Magic Listening Cap. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc

Uchida, Yushiko. (1965). The Sea of Gold and Other Tales from Japan. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons.

References for the reader's theater stories:
Uchida, Yushiko. (1994). Wise Old Women. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Uchida, Yushiko. (1954). The Magic Listening Cap. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.

Time allotment: 4 or 5 days (plus homework)

Resources needed:
*The Bracelet by Yushiko Uchida
*4 poster boards
*readers theaters

1. Students will be able to describe what Japanese culture is like.
2. Students will be able to identify how the Japanese culture influenced Yushiko Uchida's life.
3. Students will be able to identify why freedom is important to them.
4. The students will read different types of folk tales and be able to develope a folktale of their own.
5. The students will perform reader's theater to the folk tales Yushiko Uchida has published.
6. The students will identify ways they can celebrate common humanity by finding out where their family's roots come from.

1. Literature. Start out by reading The Bracelet (Uchida, Yushiko, [1993]. The Bracelet. New York, NY: Philomel Books). This is a story of Yushiko's life, but through different characters. It tells of when she and her family were taken to the concentration camp. It portrays her feelings of leaving, arriving at the camp, family, and her friends. It's an excellent story to begin discussing Japanese culture and Yushiko's life.

2. Guided Discussion. After reading the book conduct a guided discussion asking questions such as: How would you feel if their freedom was taken away. What are some things we can do because we are free. Why is freedom important to us? What does freedom mean to you as a student going to school? For homework invite the students to go home that evening and write down events that happen that show their freedom and discuss their lists the next day.

3.Carousel Brainstorm. To begin talking about Japanese culture conduct a pre-assessment by hanging four blank poster papers in four different sections of the room with the following titles on them: clothing, food, industry, and values. Break up the students into four groups and have them take a few minutes at each paper and write down all they know about the Japanese culture. (This will lead to the next activity, the guided discussion.)

4.Guided Discussion. When they have completed activity 3 keep them in their same groups and have a guided discussion. Ask them: What are some differences between Japan and the U.S.? How it would be like to be American living in Japan? How do you think Yushiko felt looking like a foreigner, but living in America? How do you think the values that she was taught helped her during her life? Summarize by asking students how the Japanese culture influenced Yushiko Uchida's life.

5. Reader's Theater. Yushiko told and retold many folk tale as an authoress. Discuss what a folktale is. (They are legends that have been told and retold for many years and are often intended to teach a certain lesson.) Divide the students up into three groups to perform for the class a folktale Yushiko wrote. (Four reader's theaters are provided in the appendix.) Discuss with the class the similarities of the three folk tales performed. Name some American folk tales they know of and tell them to create a folktale in their journals.

"The stories .... are folk tales which have been told and retold for hundreds of years to the children of Japan. Through the years, some stories have developed local variations, while others have become a combination of two or more familiar tales. All of them, however, contain the universal qualities which can be found in folk tales the world over. I have not attempted to translate these stories literally, but have retold them in my own way as a teller of tales for the children of our time." (Yushiko Uchida, p.10 ,January 1965)

6. Guest Speaker. Invite a Japanese-American or someone who is from a different country into your classroom to talk about living in America and having different roots. Have the speaker talk about how he/she is treated and how it makes the speaker feel.

Discuss the quote Yushiko stated at the end of the background information. Discuss diversity among all the students in the classroom (what makes each person unique, characteristics, talents, likes, dislikes, etc.). Teach each student that we all have different attributes that make up our class and all these differences are what makes us special.

7. Ask the students to go home and find out their own family's background. Invite them to share with the class members something that would explain their family's heritage. This may include a heirloom that has been in the family, a story of an old family member, an experience that has happened to them or someone in their family, etc. The sharing can take place in front of the class or in small groups. Provide a section in the room ( a table, wall, etc) to display what the children have brought in. Discuss ways common humanity is shown by the different types of backgrounds.

1-2. Homework, events the students have written down that show their freedom.
3-4. Papers in the four sections of the rooms and their guided discussion.
5. Performing the reader's theater and writing their own folktale in their journals.
6. Informal assessment of guest speaker through discussion.
7. The students will share, in a group or with the whole class, and display what they have learned about their family's background.


Readers Theaters: